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Published:November 5th, 2007 14:53 EST
Venezuelan Crackdown on Press

Venezuelan Crackdown on Press

By SOP newswire

Washington -- The crackdown on press freedom in Venezuela continues unabated, human rights and press freedom groups say.

Over the last six months, the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chávez has committed more "transgressions" against the press than has any other country in the Western Hemisphere, the Miami-based Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) said in an October 18 statement.

The IAPA's finding follows the May shutdown of Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) by the Chávez government, which then used the station's equipment to create a new state-run television channel.

The press freedom advocacy group says Chávez also is committed to providing financial aid to the governments of Bolivia and Ecuador to establish state-run radio stations in those countries.

The United States and a number of other governments and international bodies all condemned Chávez's action against RCTV.  Meanwhile, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights was asked to rule on a complaint against the Venezuelan government "for violating human rights related to the freedom of speech, personal safety, and legal and judicial protection for the workers and journalists" of RCTV. (See related article.)

The protests against the forced closing of RCTV continue as the Venezuelan government proposes new constitutional "reforms" that would limit freedom of the press and allow Chávez to run for re-election indefinitely.  Tens of thousands of people have been demonstrating in Venezuela against those measures.  Venezuelan citizens will vote on the proposed changes to their country's constitution in a December 2 referendum.

INTERFERENCE IN IAPA MEETING

IAPA President Earl Maucker told USINFO that his group suspects the Venezuelan government wants to stop the IAPA from holding its March 2008 meeting in Venezuela. The meeting has been scheduled for two years.  The IAPA, founded in 1942, has more than 1300 members representing newspapers and magazines in the Western Hemisphere.

Maucker said hotels in three different Venezuelan cities first accepted, then cancelled, the group's reservations for the 400-500 delegates to what the IAPA terms its "mid-year" meeting.  The hotels all claimed in cancelling that they had no vacancies, said Maucker.  The third hotel said it would provide lodging for the IAPA, but that the group was prohibited from using the hotel's conference room facilities, said Maucker, who is also editor of the Fort Lauderdale (Florida) Sun-Sentinel.

"The presumption is that the [Venezuelan] government or someone connected with the government is putting pressure" on the hotels "to not allow us to come" to Venezuela, said Maucker.  He said reservations were made and confirmed and "then we were informed later" that the hotels "did not have facilities for us," said Maucker. 

Maucker said his group remains determined to hold its meeting in Venezuela, because of what it symbolizes to the independent press in that country.

The IAPA "wants to do everything in our power to show our support to [independent] newspapers and media companies in Venezuela that we're not going to abandon them in their time of need," said Maucker.

The IAPA said in its October 18 statement that it intends to hold its meeting in Venezuela, "if it is at all possible," as a "demonstration of unrestricted support for press freedom and democracy" in the Andean nation.  The group also passed a declaration at its October General Assembly in Miami condemning Chávez's "totalitarian, dictatorial character."

Maucker said he will be part of a 14-person IAPA delegation to Venezuela in late November to appeal to Venezuela authorities to let the meeting go forward in that country.

IAPA Executive Director Julio Muñoz told USINFO that Chávez's closing of RCTV was an "overreaction against the media" in Venezuela.  He said the closing of the station represented "censorship against the media.  That was very clear."

Muñoz said that "the message here is we fight for freedom of the press" and that never in the IAPA's 65-year history has it been barred from holding its meetings in a Western Hemisphere country, whether that nation was run by a left-wing or right-wing government.  Muñoz said Cuba is the only country in the Western Hemisphere where the IAPA has not been invited by fellow press groups to hold its meetings.

"That's because all the [independent Cuban] media are in exile," Muñoz said wryly.

José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, an independent nongovernmental organization, said in an October 16 statement that the changes to the Venezuelan Constitution would allow Chávez "to invoke a state of emergency to justify suspending certain rights that are untouchable under international law."

Vivanco said that "recent Latin American history shows that it is precisely during states of emergency that countries need strong judicial protections to prevent abuse.  Otherwise, what has historically prevailed is the brutal exercise of power."

The full text of the IAPA resolution on Venezuela is on the group's Web site.

The full text of Vivanco's statement is on the Human Rights Watch Web site.

For related stories, see Freedom of the Press.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

By Eruc Green
USINFO Staff Writer

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